If you are considering becoming pregnant, this will be an interesting time as you relate to your body in a new way. If you’ve been having heterosexual sex, maybe pregnancy is something you’ve avoided for a long time. If you’ve not been partnered or are LGBTQ, moving towards insemination and pregnancy will be a new adventure in its own way.
When I’m working with women around pre-conception wellness, we soon get around to discussing fertility awareness. You can learn how to track and map out your own fertility patterns by observing signs and symptoms that appear in the different stages of the ovulatory cycle. Don’t be afraid of your thermometers–this is interesting, I promise!
Here are the benefits of learning your own ovulation signs and symptoms:
- You will be amazed by your own body! Tuning into a cycle that is unfolding in your body with your full awareness, maybe for the first time, is a positive experience for many women. When you start to notice the changes, those subtle sensations, it’s fascinating. Noticing the exact moment when a follicle is released because you can confidently identify the pinching feeling in your left ovary is a little like claiming your girl parts as the super hero parts that they truly are. Knowing what slippery cervical mucus can do makes the whole thing just a little sexier. Familiarizing yourself with the tilt of your uterus or the changes in your cervix can make your body your own in ways that may have eluded you before.
- You’ll be more effective in getting pregnant or avoiding it. When you know your body’s patterns, it makes identifying fertile times much more effective. Women who used fertility awareness tools were able to conceive 5- 7 x faster than the control groups. (Stanford, White, & Hatasaka, 2002). (Wilcox, Weinberg, & Baird, 1995; Wilcox, Weinberg, & Baird, 1995)
- If you need to turn to a fertility expert, you’ll already be an expert about your own body and experience. In an integrative model of care, mindful awareness is the foundation that supports not only your preventative health practices, but also helps establish optimal communication with our health care providers. By observing your actual body sensations and changes and adding that knowledge to the results of the tests that you can buy over the counter or those performed in a workup administered by your provider, the picture of your ovulatory patterns will be clearer. This really makes a difference in your decision of whether or not to employ interventions. You and your team will be able to more accurately target what is really happening in your unique situation and you will be able to share your knowledgeable feedback about the effects of the intervention.
- You will know when you actually conceived and can avoid post-date pressure to induce. Once you are pregnant, your midwife or doctor will date your pregnancy based on the last menstrual period (assumes a 28 day cycle, which is not the case with many women) or, they will base it on an ultrasound. They may even date conception by going back and forth between the two methods as you progress through your pregnancy. The downside is that you might get pushed to have an induction if your health care providers stick to rigid guidelines about going past that due date. When you have more confidence in your ovulation and conception dates, you can add your voice to the mix and you’ll end up with a more accurate due date.
- You’ll start your pregnancy trusting in your experience. Whether it’s being able to tune in to your body sensations or being able to validate moments when your instincts prove to be accurate, fertility awareness (if it’s taught well and completely) is based on body awareness and it has a lasting impact. If you make friends with your body now, you’ll enjoy a lovely pregnancy together.
Are there reasons not to learn about fertility awareness? Women might stay away from charting their fertility or learning their body’s signs and symptoms because they think it’s complicated (it’s not), or they may have concerns about being compulsive about it or the stressful nature of it. It has been suggested that intercourse twice a week should ‘cover the bases’ and that charting causes unneeded stress for a woman/couple attempting to conceive. (Agarwal & Haney, 1994). The research does show that prolonged conception or infertility IS no doubt stressful, but is not related specifically to fertility awareness.
I have two opinions about this. If you’re a woman conceiving through alternative insemination, the stress of the cost of semen twice a week would be significantly more stressful than using a more skillful method of timing. And yes, I have seen that trying to achieve pregnancy can be one of the most compulsive, stress-filled things when we get stuck on a wheel of striving, struggling, judging, and ‘failing’. It’s one of the reasons why mindfulness practices can be so impactful in helping the woman or couple through this process.
Turning towards curiosity, compassion, and acceptance not only reduces stress, but enhances our wellbeing. Research shows (Galhardo, 2013) that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program supported women’s emotional health and wellbeing when undergoing treatment for infertility. Additional research (Domar, 2011) demonstrated there was an increase in IVF success when women participated in a program designed to cultivate mindful awareness and to notice and work with thoughts. 52% of the women in the intervention group became pregnant during the study versus 20% in the control group.
The other invitation I’ll make to you today is to seek an understanding of the ways that the mind and body work together for fertility. Look for future posts about how stress impacts our reproductive hormones….
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Agarwal, S., & Haney, A. (1994). Does recommending timed intercourse really help the infertile couple? Obstet Gynecol, 307-310.
Domar, A. et al. (2011). Impact of a group mind/body intervention on pregnancy rates in IVF patients. Fertility and Sterility, 2269-2273.
Galhardo, A. et al. (2013). Mindfulness-based program for infertility: efficacy study. Fertility and Sterility, 1059-1067.
Stanford, J., White, G., & Hatasaka, H. (2002). Timing Intercourse to Achieve Pregnancy: Current Evidence . Obstet Gynecol, 1333-41.
Wilcox, A., Weinberg, C., & Baird, D. (1995). Timing of sexual intercourse in relation to ovulation. Effects on the probability of conception, survival of the pregnancy, and sex of the baby. N Engl J Med, 1517-21.